Five factor model of personality

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Overview of the model

The five factor model delineates five broad traits--extraversion, neuroticism, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness to experience--that encapsulate most of the differences in personality across individuals. These traits, sometimes designated as domains, were originally derived from a categorization of the adjectives that are commonly used to describe individuals but then verified and refined through factor analyses, a statistical technique that is conducted to identify sets of correlated dimensions.


Costa and McCrae (1992) identify six facets that correspond to each trait or domain. For example, individuals who exhibit extraversion are gregarious, assertive, warm, positive, and active, as well as seek excitement.


The six facets that underpin neuroticism, as defined by Costa and McCrae (1992), relate to the extent to which individuals exhibit anxiety, depression, and hostility as well as feel self conscious, act impulsively, and experience a sense of vulnerability, unable to accommodate aversive events.


Six facets defined the trait that is often referred to as agreeableness: trust in other individuals, straightforward and honest communication, altruistic and cooperative behavior, compliance rather than defiance, modesty and humility, as well as tender, sympathetic attitudes (Costa & McCrae, 1992).


The six facets that correspond to conscientiousness relate to the degree to which individuals are competent, methodical--preferring order and structure, dutiful, motivated to achieve goals, disciplined, and deliberate or considered (Costa & McCrae, 1992).

Openness to experience

Openness to experience is the final trait, which relates the extent to which individuals are open to fantasies, aesthetics, feelings, as well as novel actions, ideas, and values (Costa & McCrae, 1992). Open individuals prefer novel, intense, diverse, and complex experiences (McCrae, 1996). In contrast, closed individuals prefer familiar tasks and standardized routines (McCrae, 1996).

Cognitive correlates of the five factor model

Intelligence, creativity and executive functioning

Neuroticism is inversely, but only weakly, related to measures of fluid intelligence, such as Ravens Progressive Matrices (Unsworth, Miller, Lakey, Young, Meeks, Campbell, & Goodie, 2009). Specifically, only anxiety and vigilance seem to be negatively related to intelligence. Presumably, neuroticism might elevate test anxiety, which in turn can impair performance (Unsworth, Miller, Lakey, Young, Meeks, Campbell, & Goodie, 2009).

Openness to experience is positively related to fluency--that is, the ability to generate unique exemplars of some category, such as animals (Unsworth, Miller, Lakey, Young, Meeks, Campbell, & Goodie, 2009). Conceivably, fluency might partly mediate the established association between openness and creativity.

Extraversion has been also shown to be positively associated with some facets of creativity, such as divergent thinking. Divergent thinking reflects the capacity of individuals to uncover many answers to a single prompt, such as uses of a brick.

To illustrate, in one study, conducted by Furnham and Nederstrom (2010), to assess divergent thinking, participants completed the consequences test. In particular, they were asked to specify the consequences that might unfold if, for example, people could no longer read or write. The number of proposed solutions was regarded as a measure of divergent thinking. In addition, participants completed a measure of personality as well as some ability tests. Divergent thinking was positively associated with extraversion as well as verbal reasoning and tolerance to uncertainty; divergent thinking was also elevated in males compared to females. Conceivably, positive mood states, prevalent in extraverts, could enhance flexibility in thinking (cf. De Dreu, Baas, & Nijstad, 2008; see dual pathway to creative performance).

Longitudinal relationships between intelligence and openness

Indeed, many studies have examined how openness to experience is related to intelligence. Ziegler, Danay, Heene, Asendorpf, and Buhner (2012) developed a model, called the Openness-Fluid-Crystallized-Intelligence model, that characterizes this relationship. First, according to this model, both openness and fluid intelligence foster crystalized intelligence. In this model, fluid intelligence entails fundamental capacities that are universally valued, such as reasoning ability, memory span, perceptual speed, and mental rotation. Crystalized intelligence comprises knowledge that is derived from the culture, such as vocabulary.

Interestingly, as Ziegler, Danay, Heene, Asendorpf, and Buhner (2012) showed, if openness to experience is elevated, fluid intelligence is no longer strongly associated with crystalized intelligence. Similarly, if fluid intelligence is elevated, openness to experience is no longer strongly associated with crystalized intelligence. Presumably, fluid intelligence enables individuals to learn in novel settings more efficiently, facilitating crystalized intelligence. However, when openness to experience is elevated, people are more inclined to reflect carefully in novel settings, diminishing the need to process information efficiently, and thus overriding the importance of fluid intelligence.

In addition, openness to experience and fluid intelligence affect one another. Specifically, according to the environmental enrichment hypothesis, openness to experience fosters fluid intelligence. That is, as openness increases, people expose themselves to novel settings and insights, facilitating the development of fundamental capabilities. According to the environmental success hypothesis, fluid intelligence fosters openness to experience: People who can process information efficiently are more inclined to manage novel settings effectively, increasing their comfort to unfamiliar experiences and promoting openness.

Which of these two mechanisms prevails, according to Ziegler, Danay, Heene, Asendorpf, and Buhner (2012), may depend on the age and development of individuals. Indeed, in their study, in which participants were examined between the ages of 17 and 23, only the environmental enrichment hypothesis was vindicated, contrary to other studies.

Thinking styles

Zhang and Huang (2001) revealed that thinking styles differ across the five traits. Extraversion coincides with more creative and complex thinking styles. Specifically, their thinking style is described as more judicial--evaluating the solutions that other individuals present for example-as well as global rather than local, and external rather than internal, involving interactions with other individuals (Zhang & Huang, 2001).

Neuroticism coincides with a tendency to follow specific norms, procedures,instructions, and routines, shunning roles in which they are not certain of their responsibilities. That is, their thinking style is often described as executive--that is, administrative-conservative and local rather than global (Zhang & Huang, 2001).

Openness also coincide with more creative and complex thinking styles. Their thinking style is described as legislative-attempting to challenge traditional perspectives as well as liberal rather than conservative (Zhang & Huang, 2001).


Relative to extraverted individuals, introverted individuals are more proficient on monotonous tasks, such as monitoring a screen for several hours. Specifically, the neural circuits of introverted individuals tend to be more activated. Consequently, these circuits, and therefore their concentration, is thus active even when the environment is uninspiring and monotonous. These individuals, therefore, concentrate effectively despite the monotony or tedium of some activities (Rose, Murphy, Byard, & Nikzad, 2002).

Furthermore, conscientious individuals are less distracted by other thoughts and can thus focus their attention on monotonous tasks. In contrast, neuroticism is inversely associated with this capacity: This trait compromises the ability of individuals to control their frustration when the task is monotonous (Rose, Murphy, Byard, & Nikzad, 2002).

These arguments were substantiated by Rose, Murphy, Byard, and Nikzad (2002). In this study, participants needed to complete a vigilance task. They needed to press a button whenever some infrequent event unfolded but not respond otherwise. Performance on this task was positively associated with conscientiousness but negatively associated with extraversion and neuroticism.

Direction of attention

Extraversion tends to coincide with a bias away from negative stimuli. In one study, reported by Amin, Constable, and Canli (2004), participants completed a dot probe task. In particular, two pictures appeared simultaneously on a screen. On some trials, one of the pictures was negative and the other picture was neutral. On other trials, one of the pictures was neutral and one of the pictures was positive. Then, a dot appeare was superimposed on one of the two pictures. Participants needed to indicate the location of this dot by pressing the appropriate button.

If participants were extraverted, they responded more rapidly when the probe appeared on a neutral rather than negative picture. Presumably, extraverted individuals tended to direct their attention to neutral instead of negative pictures and thus recognized dots at this location more quickly. Interestingly, when probes were superimposed on the more negative of the two pictures, fMRI imaging indicated the right fusiform gyrus was especially activated in extraverted individuals. This region is activated when individuals need to search vigorously or process unexpected stimuli. Accordingly, extraverted individuals directed attention to the more positive picture: Dot probes that were superimposed on the other picture demanded effort to uncover and contradicted expectations.

Agreeableness coincides with an inclination to direct attention towards cues that relate to cooperation rather than competition or conflict. That is, individuals who exhibit elevated levels of agreeableness are often unable to disengage their attention from pro-social cues. Individuals who exhibit low levels of agreeableness are often unable to disengage their attention from anti-social cues (Wilkowski, Robinson, & Meier, 2006)

To illustrate, in a study conducted by Wilkowski, Robinson, and Meier (2006), a series of pro-social or anti-social words, such as assist or attack, appeared on a screen. Participants were instructed to articulate whether the word relates to being helpful or hurtful. Immediately after their response, a p or q appeared on the screen, either in the same location or in a different location. Participants pressed one of two keys, depending on whether the letter was a p or q. Agreeable individuals responded more rapidly to the letter if, immediately before this character was presented, a pro-social word had appeared at the same location or an anti-social word had appeared at a different location. Disagreeable individuals responded more rapidly to the letter if, immediately before this character was presented, and anti-social word had appeared at the same location or a pro-social word had appeared at a different location.

Furthermore, openness also coincides with a preference to focus on abstract, intangible, and distant goals or concepts rather than concrete, tangible, and immediate duties or details. To illustrate, Vaughn, Baumann, and Klemann (2008) showed that open participants felt more motivated when they were encouraged to pursue future hopes and aspirations rather than immediate duties and obligations; future aspirations are abstract rather than concrete and thus align with the preferred cognitive style of open individuals. In contrast, closed participants felt more motivated when they were encouraged to fulfill more immediate duties and obligations; immediate duties are more specific and concrete, aligning to the preferences of closed participants.

Negative biases

Neuroticism and trait anxiety tend to be associated with a bias towards negative stimuli. The attention of individuals who report neuroticism or trait anxiety tend to be directed towards threatening stimuli, at least initially (e.g., Bar-Haim et al., 2007). Furthermore, these individuals are more likely to interpret ambiguous stimuli as threatening (Calvo & Castillo, 2001). In addition, they also overestimate the likelihood of negative outcomes (e.g., Eysenck & Derakshan, 1997).


Individuals who report elevated levels of neuroticism are especially inclined to decide, and often consciously, to avoid events or contexts that might evoke negative emotions. This inclination was demonstrated by Lommen, Engelhard, and van den Hout (2010). In this study, a series of white or black circles appeared in sequence. For some participants, the white circles always coincided with an electric shock. The black circles did not coincide with an electric shock.

Next, another set of circles appeared, all of which were grey. Some of these circles were similar to white; some circles were similar to black; other circles were somewhere between white and black. Only the circles that white or nearly white coincided with an electric shock. Depending on the condition, participants were granted either 1 s or 5 s to press a space bar. Pressing the space bar would prevent the electric shock.

Relative to people who did not report elevated levels of neuroticism, people who did report elevated levels of neuroticism were more inclined to press the space bar, even if the circles were not especially white. That is, they demonstrated more caution. Nevertheless, this pattern emerged only when participants were granted 5 s to reach a decision, indicating this inclination demands conscious deliberation.

Other differences between individuals who report elevated levels of neuroticism and other participants were observed. For example, individuals who reported elevated levels of neuroticism were more inclined to rate the electric shocks as unpleasant. They perceived the negative events as more aversive.

Motivational correlates of the five factor model

Self control

Conscientiousness seems to coincide with self control--the capacity to inhibit temptations and pursue important but challenging goals. For example, in one study, conscientious individuals persisted on a tedious task for a longer duration than did other participants (Sansone, Wiebe, & Morgan, 1999).

Performance and the five factor model

These five traits are also associated with job performance. Indeed, a variety of studies and meta-analyses have been undertaken to examine the association between personality, as represented by the five factor model, and performance (e.g., Barrick & Mount, 1991; Barrick, Mount, & Judge, 2001; Salgado, 1997, 2003; Tett, Jackson, & Rothstein, 1991).

These pioneering meta-analyses showed that conscientiousness and, to a lesser extent, extraversion were positively related to job performance (e.g., Barrick & Mount, 1991). Later studies have shown that emotional stability, openness to experience, and agreeableness are also related to job performance (for a meta-analysis, see Tett, Jackson, & Rothstein, 1991)--with correlations between .2 and .35. Nevertheless, the role of extraversion, openness to experience, and agreeableness in particular seems to vary across settings and responsibilities (Barrick, Mount, & Judge, 2001) and, therefore, might not be applicable to all jobs.

Other factors also affect the strength of these relationships. These associations, for example, are more pronounced when the measures that are intended to represent the five factors are administered (Salgado, 2003). That is, in some studies, the five factors are aggregated from sets of specific scales--not designed for this purpose. Associations derived from these aggregated scales are usually lower.

Conscientious individuals, in general, tend to perform more proficiently than peers, as rated by official standards, from elementary schools (Digman & Inouye, 1986) to work settings (Barrick & Mount, 1991)

Nonlinear relationships

Many studies have assumed that personality is linearity associated with job performance. However, as Le, Oh, Robbins, Ilies, Holland, and Westrick (2011) showed, curvilinear relationships are probably more accurate. That is, once traits like conscientiousness or emotional stability exceed a particular level, performance no longer improves but tends to diminish. If the jobs are complex, performance diminishes only at higher levels of these personality traits.

To illustrate, conscientiousness can facilitate lofty goals and effort. Nevertheless, if excessive, this focus on lofty goals and effort can reduce flexibility to other objectives, increasing rigidity and even culminating in burnout. If a task is not especially complex, conscientious individuals may still devote undue effort to this activity, often to the detriment of other pursuits. Very high levels of conscientiousness, therefore, are especially unfavorable when the tasks are not particularly complex.

Similarly, emotional stability may curb distractibility and thus improve concentration and performance. Nevertheless, if emotional stability is too elevated, individuals may not demonstrate the beneficial effects of some unpleasant emotions in particular situations. Some anxiety, for example, can direct attention to subtle complications?-vital for simple tasks. Furthermore, some anxiety might facilitate social insight, improving relationships, and enhancing organizational citizenship behavior.

To assess these possibilities, Le, Oh, Robbins, Ilies, Holland, and Westrick (2011) administered a series of questionnaires, intended to gauge the conscientiousness and emotional stability of participants. Their supervisors also evaluated the extent to which participants help colleagues, act responsibility, and perform their tasks effectively. Furthermore, whether participants engage in tasks that are simple, primarily comprising established routines, or complex was assessed.

The results confirmed the hypotheses. When conscientiousness or emotional stability exceeded a particular level, citizenship behavior and task performance no longer improved but tended to diminish. If the jobs were complex, however, performance diminished only at very high levels of these personality traits.

Likewise, as Carter, Dalal, Boyce, O?Connell, Kung, and Delgado (2014) showed, whether the association is linear or curvilinear depends on which approach is used to assess the relationship between conscientiousness and performance. Traditionally, to assess a scale, researchers sum or average a set of scores. This approach assumes a dominance model: Individuals who exhibit more of some trait, such as conscientiousness, will tend to generate higher scores on some measure. Alternatively, to assess a scale, researchers can utilize an ideal point model: Individuals are more likely to endorse items that are similar to their level on an underlying continuum. Participants compare the extremity of an item with their own extremity on some trait--arguably a more accurate approach. Sophisticated techniques, such as the generalized graded unfolding IRT model, apply this model.

Carter, Dalal, Boyce, O?Connell, Kung, and Delgado (2014) showed that, when this more sophisticated approach is used, called an ideal point model, the relationship between conscientiousness and performance was curvilinear. Very low or very high conscientiousness was detrimental. When the traditional dominance model was applied, the relationship between conscientiousness and performance was linear. Conscientiousness was positively associated with performance. The authors argued that many standard techniques might have overlooked the curvilinear relationship.

Nonlinear relationships and sales performance

According to some research, people who are especially extraverted or introverted are not especially effective in sales roles. Instead, individuals who report moderate levels of extraversion and introversion, called ambiverts, are more likely to perform well in these roles.

This possibility was proposed and verified by Grant (2013). In this study, the participants were employees of call centers, charged with the responsibility of generating sales from both existing and new customers. They completed a measure of the five factor model of personality, comprising 20 items, validated by Donnellan, Oswald, Baird, & Lucas (2006). After controlling hours worked, job tenure, and the other personality traits, the relationship between extraversion and sales performance was an inverted U shape, peaking midway between extreme introversion and extreme extraversion. None of the other personality traits, or square of these personality traits, were significantly associated with sales performance.

When individuals are especially extraverted, they like to be the focus of attention, sometimes diminishing their sensitivity to the needs of other people. Conversely, when individuals are especially introverted, they might not be assertive enough to persuade other people.

Social correlates of the five factor model

Impact on other people

Extraverted individuals often evoke negative emotions in the people with whom they interact, as shown by Eisenkraft and Eifenbein (2010). Extraverted individuals, for example, often seem dominant, and this dominance could undermine the sense of power or status in other people.

To demonstrate, in the study conducted by Eisenkraft and Eifenbein (2010), members of 48 workgroups, each of which comprised four or five individuals, completed a questionnaire. Specifically, they first completed a measure of the five factor model. Next, they evaluated the extent to which they experience various emotions--anger, boredom, calmness, enthusiasm, happiness, relaxation, sadness, and stress--when they interact with each of the other members of their workgroup. Finally, they specified the individuals with whom they most often interact.

The results show that some people were more likely to provoke negative emotions in colleagues than were other people. Specifically, participants who reported elevated levels of extraversion--or low levels of agreeableness--were more like to elicit negative emotions in their colleagues (Eisenkraft & Eifenbein, 2010). Furthermore, some people were especially likely to provoke positive emotions in other people. These individuals were more likely to be central to social networks, often chosen as close to other colleagues (Eisenkraft & Eifenbein, 2010).

Judgments of other people

Most people assume that agreeable individuals--that is, anyone who is cooperative, sympathetic, trustworthy, sincere, compliant, and modest--tend to evaluate other people favorably. However, Kammrath and Scholer (2011) challenged this simple assumption. These researchers showed that agreeable individuals are especially likely to evaluate helpful acts favorably but unhelpful acts unfavorably.

Specifically, as a set of four studies demonstrated, agreeable individuals are primarily motivated to develop strong, trusting relationships or associations, called a communal orientation, rather than to prevail. Because of this orientation, they are very sensitive to whether or not other people are supportive and fair or unsupportive and unfair. If someone seems unsupportive or unfair, agreeable people, relative to disagreeable people, will be especially disappointed. They will evaluate this individual as particularly negative, selfish, hurtful, unkind, and disrespectful.


Kammrath, McCarthy, Cortes, and Friesen (2015) explored the association between personality and assertiveness. In general, people assume that introverted and agreeable people are not assertive. However, as Kammrath, McCarthy, Cortes, and Friesen (2015) showed, the motivation or causes of this unassertive behavior differs between introverted and agreeable people.

In particular, people who are introverted exhibit limited ability to be assertive. For example, as rated by their partners, individuals who reported elevated levels of introversion cannot be forceful with other people or speak up when necessary. Furthermore, when introverted people remember times in which they felt dissatisfied with someone, they were less inclined to confront the person, even if they felt the topic was important.

In contrast, people who are agreeable exhibit ability to be assertive but also the ability to be unassertive when warranted. For instance, in this study, agreeableness did not affect the degree to which people are forceful with other people or can speak up when necessary. Yet, as rated by their partners, individuals who reported elevated levels of agreeableness can avoid arguments or be a follower when necessary; extraversion did not affect this capacity significantly. Likewise, when agreeable people remember times in which they felt dissatisfied with someone, they confronted the other person when the topic was important but not when the topic was unimportant.

Placebo effects

The effect of placebos--such as sugar pills--on pain depends on personality (Pecina et al., 2012). Specifically, agreeableness has been shown to increase the magnitude of placebo effects. Perhaps, agreeable people may be more open to advice or information and may be less defensive.

Specifically, if participants perceive themselves as high on resilience as well as exhibit high levels of agreeableness, placebo effects are more pronounced. That is, these participants felt their pain had diminished in response to placebos. These participants also showed greater activation of the opioid neurotransmission in the anterior cingulate cortex, orbitofrontal cortex, insula, nucleus accumbens, amygdala and periaqueductal gray, vital to the relief of pain.

Health correlates of the five factor model

The immune system

The personality of individuals, as gauged by the five factor model, also affects immunity. For example, as Armon, Melamed, Shirom, Berliner, and Shapira (2013) showed, neuroticism and extraversion are positively associated, and openness to experience is negatively associated, with two biomarkers of inflammation: C-reactive protein and fibrinogen--two proteins that are released during the acute phase of infection or trauma. Furthermore, the positive association between neuroticism and inflammation was especially pronounced if individuals were physically inactive, as gauged by number of hours of physical activity.

In short, these studies imply that openness to experience, introversion, and emotional stability may facilitate health. Excessive inflammatory responses can impede physiological repair and, over time, compromise cardiovascular health. These traits diminish inflammatory responses and thus prevent these complications.

Several accounts can be applied to explain these findings. Neuroticism, for example, activates the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, ultimately increasing the concentration of cortisol in the blood; cortisol then evokes an inflammatory response. Physical activity, however, may dampen this set of reactions, however.

The mechanisms that underpin the relationship between extraversion and inflammation is not as certain. People who are extraverted may be more inclined to gravitate to thrilling, reckless, or risky activities--activities that can promote cortisol, inflammation, or both.

Finally, openness to experience coincides with activity in the orbitofrontal cortex, and this region, vital to flexibility and adaptation, tends to curb activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, diminishing cortisol and inflammation. In this study, however, openness was negatively correlated with only fibrinogen.

Work attitudes or behavior and the five factor model


Absenteeism is related to personality. In particular, employees are sometimes absent because of legitimate illness or family commitments. Other individuals, in contrast, choose to be absent--sometimes to engage in enjoyable activities instead.

Extraversion and openness to experience are positively related to the likelihood that employees choose to be absent (Darviri & Woods, 2006). These individuals tend to seek excitement or novelty and, thus, feel motivated to engage in interesting activities outside work. Agreeableness, in contrast, is negatively related to this tendency. That is, agreeableness is associated with the need to comply with social obligations, which curbs absenteeism.

Emotional labor

At work, individuals often need to regulate their emotions, such as suppress their anger or anxiety, to reach their goals. This regulation of emotions is sometimes called emotional labor. Two forms of emotional labor are often differentiated: surface and deep (Grandey, 2000, 2003). Surface labor refers to attempts in individuals to display specific emotions, such as happiness or excitement, while experiencing different emotions. Deep labor refers to attempts in employees to change their actual emotional experiences.

As Kiffin-Petersen, Jordan, and Soutar (2010) demonstrated, personality affects which strategies people utilize. This study showed that neuroticism is positively associated with the use of surface acting--a strategy that was also shown to promote exhaustion at work, perhaps because suppression demands persistent effort. In contrast, agreeableness and extraversion was associated with deep acting, and this strategy increased the likelihood that individuals would engage in organizational citizenship behavior.

Conceivably, agreeableness increases the likelihood that individuals feel genuine compassion for customers. They actually, therefore, experience the emotional state they would like to express (Kiffin-Petersen, Jordan, & Soutar, 2010).


The personality of people also correlates with the shoes they wear most often. For example, as Gillath, Bahns, Ge, and Crandall (2012) demonstrated, if people are extraverted, their shoes are more likely to be worn and the tops of these shoes are higher. If people are agreeable, their shoes do not seem as pricy or masculine, as judged by other individuals. If people report low levels of neuroticism, their shoes tend to be more masculine and worn; the brand name is also more likely to be conspicuous.

In addition, people sometimes judge the personality of other individuals from their shoes alone. That is, in the study that was conducted by Gillath, Bahns, Ge, and Crandall (2012), individuals were instructed to judge the personality of people from a photographs of the shoes this person wore most often. If the shoes were bright and colorful, these individuals tended to assume the person was extraverted and open to experience. If the shoes were feminine and inexpensive, and the brand was not conspicuous, people tended to assume the person was agreeable. These ratings were not usually accurate, except presumed agreeableness was correlated with actual agreeableness.

Psychological disorders and the the five factor model

Personality disorders and the five factor model

The five factor model is modestly related to the personality disorders, as defined by the DSM IV. Indeed, facets of the five factors can be used to predict personality disorders (see De Fruyt, De Clercq, Miller, Rolland, Jung, Taris, Furnham, & Van Hiel, 2009). In particular, De Fruyt, De Clercq, Miller, Rolland, Jung, Taris, Furnham, and Van Hiel (2009) examined whether scores on the NEO-PI-R, a comprehensive measure of the five factor model, can be used to estimate ten personality disorders:

  • Paranoid: Suspicious, envious, resistant to criticism or intrusions, and rigid in emotions, often ascribing errors to other individuals or unfair regulations
  • Schizoid: Unable to form social networks, initiate rapport, and express emotions
  • Schizotypal: Seemingly illogical, strange and suspicious, demonstrating unconventional, idiosyncratic behaviors and even psychotic symptoms under stress
  • Antisocial: Exhibit destructive work patterns and show disrespect towards the interests of other individuals, acting impulsively and disobediently rather than persistently and diligently
  • Borderline: Moody, insecure, unstable, irritable, and even aggressive at times, demonstrating erratic behavior in relationships
  • Histrionic: Flamboyant, dramatic and emotional, exhibiting a need for attention. Often, their relationships are not mutual.
  • Narcissistic: Inflated sense of self importance, unable to consider the perspective of someone else but demanding of praise and admiration
  • Avoidant: Anxious in social settings, concerned about rejection--but yearning relationships unlike schizoid personality disorder
  • Dependent: A need to be cared by other individuals, following these leaders intensely rather than showing initiative.
  • Workaholics without warmth: Perfectionism and obsessed with achievement (Furnham & Taylor, 2004).

De Fruyt, De Clercq, Miller, Rolland, Jung, Taris, Furnham, and Van Hiel (2009) estimated the extent to which individuals demonstrated these personality disorders from their responses to the NEO. In particular, they developed formulas that relate these responses to personality disorders. These formulas are derived by correlating profiles of each disorder with relevant facets.

For example, to estimate paranoid personality, the responses to N2, E1r, E2r, O4r, O6r, A1r, A2r, A3r, A4r, A6r are summed. In this example, the letter refers to the trait, the number refers to the facet within this trait, and r refers to reversed--x - 1 + 32. The results, in general, confirmed this technique. Personality disorders, as estimated from the NEO, did predict the decision to exclude these individuals during the selection process, for example.

Psychological disorders and extreme personality traits

Piedmont, Sherman, Sherman, Dy-Liacco, and Williams (2009) argue that personality disorders could be conceptualized as extreme values on one or more of the five primary traits (see also Widiger, Costa, & McCrae, 2002). They developed a scale that represents extreme values on openness to experience, called the Experiential Permeability Inventory.

Excessive openness might correspond to preoccupation with fantasy, unstable goals, inadequate conformity to social conventions, eccentricity, and diffuse identity (Widiger, Costa, & McCrae, 2002). Negligible openness might correspond to an inability to adapt to change, intolerance to different perspectives, alexithymia, and limited interests.

As Piedmont, Sherman, Sherman, Dy-Liacco, and Williams (2009) highlight, extreme values on openness, either excessive or negligible, can undermine connections with social collectives or relationships. If openness is excessive, they remain too independent, appearing odd and eccentric. If openness is negligible, they seem too rigid and intolerant to maintain social relationships.

Accordingly, extreme values of openness undermine the capacity of individuals to adapt their inner, private experiences--thoughts, feelings, preferences, and inclinations--to accommodate their social environment. This capacity affects a concept called experiential permeability. That is, some individuals demonstrate unduly permeable boundaries between themselves and the surrounding environment. They cannot distinguish between personal inclinations and external imperatives. They do not, therefore, inhibit these inclinations, and hence might appear eccentric, manifested as excessive openness and related to schizotypal personality disorder.

Other individuals demonstrate very impermeable boundaries. They cannot relate personal inclinations to external imperatives. They conform to social cues, without any sensitivity to personal needs. They conform inordinately, manifested as negligible openness--and related to alexithymia and authoritarianism.

The Experiential Permeability Inventory comprises four factors:

  • Odd and eccentric; a sample item is "I think that supernatural forces do influence the course of human events"
  • Unrestricted self; a sample item is "Government should stop interfering with how people want to live their lives"
  • Rigid; a sample item is "I like following my daily routine"
  • Superficial ;a sample item is "I?m not interested in learning about people in other cultures and how they do things".

Autism spectrum disorder

Relative to individuals who are not diagnosed with a disorder of the same age, individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder report greater levels of neuroticism and lower levels of extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness to experience (Schriber, Robins, & Solomon, 2014). These differences are generally large in magnitude. Yet, correlations between self reports and parents reports were similar in people with autism spectrum disorder and other people, suggesting that autism does not compromise some facets of insight appreciably. But, in contrast to people without autism spectrum disorder, people with autism spectrum disorder were more likely to report their personality more favorably than did their parents.

Interactions between the personality traits

The five personality traits are assumed to be largely independent of one another. Yet, the association between one personality trait and some outcome often depends on other personality traits.

For example, conscientious and agreeableness moderate the association between neuroticism and some behaviors. To illustrate, as Bowling, Burns, Stewart, and Gruys (2011) showed, when conscientiousness, agreeableness, or both are elevated, the positive association between neuroticism and counterproductive work behavior diminishes. That is, if people are conscientious and agreeable, they can more readily suppress their immediate urges. Urges that are provoked by stress and may evoke undesirable behavior, common in people who report neuroticism, are likely to be inhibited in conscientious and agreeable individuals.

Similarly, agreeable employees are more likely to receive promotions and rewards than disagreeable employees, but only if they are also conscientious. To clarify, conscientious employees are more likely than other colleagues to receive favourable evaluations from their supervisors. However, if these employees also tend to be perceived as disagreeable, their methodical, careful, and disciplined manner can be perceived as rigid and inflexible. That is, they will often impose their own opinions and objectives onto others. In addition, they will strive to fulfil their own goals to the detriment of other activities, such as cooperation with colleagues (see Witt, Brown, Barrick, & Mount, 2002).

Antecendents to the five traits

Work experiences

Experiences in the work environment can subsequently change personality (Scollon & Diener, 2006). That is, as Scollon and Diener (2006) showed, job satisfaction at one time corresponds to subsequent increases in extraversion.

The mechanisms that underpin this change in extraversion have not been investigated extensively. Conceivably, if employees enjoy their role, they experience more positive emotions. These positive emotions tend to override concerns and doubts. Individuals are willing to embrace risks in social settings, manifesting as confidence and extraversion.

Alternatively, if employees enjoy their role, they might flourish at the organization. They will thus be granted more opportunities and experiences to develop their social competence, sometimes increasing extraversion.

Investment or commitment to work

As Hudson, Roberts, and Lodi-Smith (2012) showed, when individuals become more invested and committed to their work, their personality tends to change. In particular, they tend to exhibit the personality traits that are especially suitable in the work environment, such as conscientiousness, agreeableness, and openness to experience. Presumably, as people become invested in work, their identity is more likely to entail their work roles. These work roles are associated with personality styles in which people inhibit egocentric motives and attempt a variety of tasks, increasing conscientiousness, agreeableness, and openness to experience.

To investigate this possibility, in one study, conducted by Hudson, Roberts, and Lodi-Smith (2012), participants completed a series of measures across a three year period. These measures included an assessment of personality as well as the extent to which participants exhibit job involvement (e.g., "Most of my interests are centered around my job", work investment (e.g., "I consult my coworkers before making important changes in my life"), and both organizational citizenship behavior and counterproductive work behavior.

As people became more committed to their work, as reflected by increased investment and organizational citizenship behavior, their level of conscientiousness increased significantly. Furthermore, investment in work at one time also predicted increases in agreeableness at a later time. Finally, increases in job involvement coincided with increases in openness to experience.

Neurological underpinnings

Several studies have explored the neurological correlates of these five personality traits. First, personality traits do correspond to differences between left and right activation in various brain regions. Conscientiousness, for example, seems to coincide with more activation in the left, compared to the right, prefrontal cortices, as determined by EEG recordings (Jensen-Campbell, Knack, Waldrip, & Campbell, 2007). In particular, alpha power was greater in the right relative to left prefrontal regions, and alpha power tends to represent reduced brain activity. This asymmetry, however, arose only after participants received critical rather than favorable feedback.

DeYoung, Hirsh, Shane, Papademetris, Rajeevan, and Gray (2010) showed the volume of brain regions is indeed related to personality. In this study, structural magnetic resonance imaging was applied to 116 adults. In short, openness was not significantly related to brain structure. In contrast, extraversion was positively related to the volume of the medial orbitofrontal cortex, critical to the processing of reward information. This finding aligns to the proposition that extraversion partly emanates from an amplified sensitivity to rewards.

Neuroticism was inversely related to the volume of regions in the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex and the left medial temporal lobe, especially the posterior hippocampus. Furthermore, neuroticism was positively related to both grey and white matter in the mid-cingulate gyrus. These findings are consistent with the proposition that neuroticism primarily represents sensitivity to threat and punishment. To illustrate, the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex is integral to emotional regulation, especially in response to self evaluations (Ochsner & Gross, 2005). The hippocampus seems to be critical in the resolution of conflicts and the regulation of rumination (e.g., Gray & McNaughton, 2000). The mid-cingulate gyrus can amplify sensitivity to errors and pain (e.g., Eisenberger & Lieberman, 2004).

Agreeableness was inversely associated with the volume of the left superior temporal sulcus but positively associated with the volume of the fusiform gyrus and posterior cingulate cortex. The posterior cingulate cortex might facilitate theory of mind--that is, the capacity to understand the perspectives and beliefs of other individuals (Saxe & Powell, 2006). Thus, the capacity to process social information might partly underpin agreeableness.

Conscientiousness was associated with volume of middle frontal gyrus in left lateral prefrontal cortex, critical to explicit planning and deliberate control of behavior. This region enables individuals to maintain information in working memory and, thus, facilitates the execution of plans.

Genetic contributions

As McCrae, Scally, Terracciano, Abecasis, and Costa (2010) concede, the attempts of researchers to identify the alleles of genes that coincide with particular personality traits have uncovered mixed and unconvincing results. These authors, for example, refer to studies that have examined whether one gene, underpinning the serotonin transporter, correlates with neuroticism. This transporter facilitates the uptake of serotonin, curbing depression. A polymorphism in the promoter region of this serotonin transporter has been shown to correlate with neuroticism, yet this finding has since been disputed by subsequent studies. Note that a polymorphism is a specific allele or variant of a gene, and a promoter region is a section of DNA that facilitates the transcription of a particular gene?-the first phase of gene expression.

According to McCrae, Scally, Terracciano, Abecasis, and Costa (2010), researchers might not have focused their attention on the most applicable regions, given the human genome entails 25,000 genes. The genome-wide association study represents an attempt to simplify this endeavor. Specifically, the genome comprises a series of haplotypes. These haplotypes are clusters of single nucleotide polymorphisms that are located close together and are highly correlated. Each single nucleotide polymorphisms is a variation or mutation of a gene that is observed in more than 1% of the population. Because these polymorphisms are correlated, researchers can sometimes assess only of these single nucleotide polymorphisms to characterize a haplotype.

The analysis of these markers offers key benefits. First, examination of single nucleotide polymorphisms, instead of entire haplotypes, can uncover some misleading information. Sometimes, researchers will discover an association between a single nucleotide polymorphisms and some phenotype, such as neuroticism. However, the single nucleotide polymorphism might not actually be responsible for this characteristic. Instead, this single nucleotide polymorphism might correlate with other single nucleotide polymorphisms that, in turn, underpin the characteristic. Second, researchers can, in essence, examine whether thousands of single nucleotide polymorphisms correlate with specific traits.

Nevertheless, several complications compromise this approach. In particular, because thousands of single nucleotide polymorphisms can be examined simultaneously, Type I errors are common. Researchers will sometimes incorrectly conclude that a single nucleotide polymorphism is correlated with a trait. Although a stringent level of alpha can be used to overcome this problem, such as a Bonferroni adjustment (see also Modified Bonferroni adjustments, this adjustment decreases the capacity of researchers to uncover small effects. Thus, genes that are only marginally associated with some trait will often be overlooked. Traits that are explained by hundreds of genes are, therefore, more difficult to examine. To override this approach, one study is often undertaken to identify single nucleotide polymorphisms that might be associated with a trait; then, a replication study that examines these single nucleotide polymorphisms more closely is undertaken.

McCrae, Scally, Terracciano, Abecasis, and Costa (2010) attempted to identify molecular personality scales--an index derived from extensive sets of single nucleotide polymorphisms that have been shown to be strongly associated with specific traits. This approach is utilized primarily to demonstrate whether or not specific traits are indeed underpinned by genes rather than to characterize the precise genes. To illustrate this approach, suppose allele A is associated with some trait. For all individuals, if both of their alleles for some single nucleotide polymorphisms is A, they receive a 2; if one of the alleles is A, they receive a 1; if none of the alleles are A, they receive 0. Then, for this trait, scores on all the relevant alleles are summed.

Although effective, this approach disregards instances in which the effect of one gene depends on the expression of another gene, called an epistatic effect. Only the additive effects of genes can be examined. Furthermore, this approach does not determine whether gene expression--that is, how the environment affects whether the gene is functioning at some point in time--influences traits. Only the presence or absence of genes can be established.

McCrae, Scally, Terracciano, Abecasis, and Costa (2010) applied this technique to examine whether personality, as represented by the five factor model, is correlated with genes. The molecular personality scales, and thus genes, were significantly associated with neuroticism, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness but not extraversion. These molecular personality scales were derived from the most relevant 500 or so single nucleotide polymorphisms for each trait--only a limited portion of the entire genome.

Birth order

To some extent, birth order can affect the personality of people. Relative to other individuals, people who were the oldest sibling in their family tend to be less extraverted, dominating, talkative, lively, and assertive (Herrera, Zajonc, Wieczorkowska, & Cichomski, 2003; Pollet, Dijkstra, Barelds, & Buunk, 2010). This relationship persists after controlling age and number of children in the family.

Conceivably, as Pollet, Dijkstra, Barelds, and Buunk (2010) propose, parents might be more strict and overprotective towards their first born children, perhaps because of uncertainty about their own parenting. Thus, parents are more dominant, and children become more submissive in response. That is, dominant behaviors in one person tend to evoke submissive behaviors in another person. Consistent with this possibility, extraversion is inversely associated with overprotective parents (Nakao, Takaishi, Tatsuta, Katayama, Iwase, & Yorifuji, et al., 2000).

Alternatively, and consistent with the concept of developmental niches (e.g., Sulloway, 1996), firstborn children occupy a privileged position. They might not, therefore, experience the need to assert themselves. They do not, therefore, develop this capacity.

Historical variations

In some nations, especially during the early 1900s, pathogens like leprosy, malaria, typhus, dengue, and tuberculosis were especially common. In other nations, pathogens were not as frequent. Interestingly, as Schaller and Murray (2008) demonstrated, in nations in which these pathogens were especially prevalent, residents are not as likely to be extraverted.

According to Schaller and Murray (2008), when pathogens are prevalent, practices that curb the diffusion and propagation of diseases are reinforced. Many social behaviors can increase this diffusion of disease and, therefore, tend to be discouraged. Because these social behaviors are deterred, the incidence of extraversion diminishes. Exploration is also discouraged in these environments, promoting conformity instead of openness.

Refinements to the original theory

Personality development Neo-Socioanalytic Model of Personality

The principle personality traits are often assumed to be relatively stable across time, largely determined by genetics. Nevertheless, many studies, especially research conducted by Brent Roberts and his colleagues, have shown that personality does change across the life span (e.g., Roberts, 2005, 2006; Roberts & Caspi, 2001; Roberts & Wood, 2006).

From a series of longitudinal studies, a series of principles, defining the principle antecedents of personality development, have been formulated. For instance, according to this neo-socioanalytic model of personality, personality matures with age, manifested as a rise in the level of agreeableness, conscientiousness, and emotional stability. This maturity partly arises as individuals reflect upon their identity and engage in a broader range of social roles. For instance, extraversion and emotional stability rise with age, especially when individuals feel satisfied and committed to their job (Scollon & Diener, 2006).

Agreeableness can also be shaped by experience. Meier, Wilkowski, and Robinson (2008) developed a computer task that might affect the agreeableness of individuals--or at least offset aggression. According to these authors, agreeableness, at least partly, represents the capacity to activate cooperative or helpful inclinations in hostile contexts (Meier, Robinson, & Wilkowski, 2006). These cooperative inclinations curb anger and aggression (Wilkowski & Robinson, 2008).

To assess this proposition, Meier, Robinson, and Wilkowski (2006) conducted a study in which participants needed to classify words, such as slander or support, as hostile or helpful. Individuals who reported elevated levels of agreeableness were more likely than other participants to classify helpful words more rapidly than hostile words. Their attention, thus, seems to be directed towards the helpful features of some person or interaction.

From this perspective, Meier, Wilkowski, and Robinson (2008) predicted that agreeableness could be cultivated. Specifically, the salience of helpful concepts could be amplified. These authors developed a task in which helpful targets, such as praise, followed hostile prime, such as kill, 90% of the time. The primes, typically hostile words, appeared at one of four locations on a screen. Participants then shifted the mouse to this location and clicked the prime. After the prime was clicked, a target word materialized. Participants were instructed to memorize these target words?and this instruction was intended to focus their attention on these items.

Participants completed 360 trials. In half the trials, the prime was neutral in emotion. In the experimental group, the remaining primes related to aggression--90% of which were followed by a helpful target. In the control group, the remaining primes were strings of letters, such as cccc. Participants in the experimental condition, exposed to hostile primes followed by helpful words, demonstrated less aggression in a subsequent laboratory task than participants in the control condition.

Narrow traits

Some investigators contend the five factors are too broad. Instead, they recommend the researchers and practitioners examine facets or subdivisions of these factors, sometimes called subordinate or narrow traits instead.

Many studies have substantiated the benefits of these narrow traits. The various facets of conscientiousness, including achievement, order, and dependability, do not all correlate with job performance to the extent. Research that merely aggregates these facets into a single broad factor, called conscientiousness, might overestimate the importance of some dimensions and underestimate the importance of other dimensions (Dudley, Orvis, Lebiecki, & Cortina, 2006). In addition, the correlations between personality and performance are often higher when narrow, rather than broad, traits are examined (e.g., Ashton, 1998).

Variability of personality

Most studies examine average personality rather than variability in personality. In contrast, Clifton and Kuper (2011) conducted two studies to examine whether individuals who vary their personality across their friendships experience more social problems. First, participants completed a measure of their personality, as represented by the five factor model. Next, participants received a survey that assesses interpersonal problems, such as sensitivity to rejection, aggression, need for social approval, and limited sociability. Then, in another session, participants specified the name of 30 significant people in their lives. For each individual, participants indicated how close they were to this person. They also completed a ten item personality test (Gosling, Rentfrow, & Swann, 2003; for evidentiary support, see Furnham, 2008), to indicate their personality or demeanor around each person in turn (e.g., "When I am around this person, I see myself as extraverted...").

If people tended to vary their level of agreeableness or openness across relationships, they were more likely to experience interpersonal problems, such as sensitivity to rejection, aggression, and excessive need to receive social approval (Clifton & Kuper, 2011). Conceivably, people who vary their personality might often feel the need to inhibit many of their inclinations, compromising their natural tendencies and undermining their intuition during these exchanges. Alternatively, this variability might indicate they are volatile: that is, minor events could ignite specific behaviors, perhaps indicating limited self control. Finally, variability might indicate the self concept of individuals is not cohesive but fragmented.

Criticisms of the five factor model and personality testing

The tautology of personality testing

According to Cervone (1999, 2005), explicit personality tests are marred by an obvious tautology. To illustrate this tautology, Cervone (1999, 2005) emphasized that many of the questions in these tests overlap with the outcomes that are measured. For example, consider a study that explores whether neuroticism is associated with anxiety. Both the measure of neuroticism and the measure of anxiety will include items that gauge feelings of apprehension or symptoms of agitation. Therefore, neuroticism will inevitably predict anxiety. The utility of this personality test, therefore, is limited.

Measures of the five traits

The NEO and item response theory

The NEO is one of the most common measures of the five factor model. Short versions of the NEO gauge only the five traits. Longer versions gauge six facets of each of these fix traits.

Spence, Owens, and Goodyer (2012) utilized item response theory to examine the reliability and utility of various items in the NEO-FFI. They restricted their analyses to adolescents, an age at which personality is still changing and the distinction between some of the factors is obscured. In essence, they showed that many of the items do not discriminate individuals well and are not especially reliable. After these items were removed, reliability improved without compromising validity.

Item response theory estimates two parameters for each item. The first parameter, called discrimination and usually represented by the letter a, indicates the extent to which the latent trait is related to responses on this item. When discrimination is elevated, the latent trait is highly related to the probability of endorsing this item. The second parameter, called difficulty and represented by the letter b, indicates the likelihood of endorsing an item, given a specific level on the latent trait. As difficulty increases, individuals become less inclined to endorse the item. They are not as likely, for example, to endorse the item "I like parties".

Item response theory can provide key information. For example, item response theory can extract equations called item information curves and total information curves (Baker, 2001). These curves reflect the extent to which each item or scale is informative.

In this study, participants completed the NEO-FFI, which comprises 60 items. They also completed hedonic and eudaimonic measures of wellbeing, friendship satisfaction, and grades at school. To apply item response theory, the responses to the personality scale were subjected to a graded response model, suitable for Likert scales (Samejima, 1969). The Mplus programme was utilized to analyze the data, using an MLR estimator and a logit link. According to Baker (2001), discrimination values between .65 and 1.34 are moderate and values between 1.35 and 1.69 are high.

Rather than assume that all items load on one factor, a multidimensional item response theory model was utilized, in which each item loaded on one dominant factor as well as one or more specific factors. Therefore, for each item, several discrimination parameters were estimated. Overall, 19 of the items generated discrimination values below 1.17. Once these items were removed, however, correlations between personality and the other measures--wellbeing, friendships, and grades--hardly changed at all. Validity was thus maintained. Finally, the threshold data indicated that people highly agree or highly disagree with items only when three standard deviations away from the population mean.


A variety of measures have been constructed to assess the five personality traits (for an empirical comparison of various measures, see (for studies that compare distinct measures, see Furnham, 2008b). Some measures merely consist of a series of adjectives. Participants indicate the degree to which these adjectives correspond to their personality. The most common variant of this procedure was developed by Goldberg (1992), which comprises 100 adjectives and generates values of Cronbach's alpha, a measure of internal consistency, that range from .74 to .88 across the five scales.

Short phrases

Some of these measures comprise short phrases, such as "Is a reliable worker", and participants are instructed to specify the extent to which these phrases depict their personality. Examples include the Big Five Inventory (John, Donahue, & Kentle, 1991), in which Cronbach's alpha ranges from .71 to .80 across the five scales and the number of items is 44.

Extraction of personality from social media

The personality of individuals, as gauged by the five factor model, can be distilled, to some extent, from their language in social media (Park et al., 2015). In particular, in this study, over 66 000 Facebook uses completed the NEO to gauge their personality. In addition, thousands of features of their language use during social media were extracted, including the frequency with which they used specific words, the frequency with which they used particular combinations of words, and their use of particular categories of words or topics. Next, a multiple regression was undertaken to examine the association between personality, as rated by the participants themselves, and these language features. This analysis extracted a model that can be used to predict personality.

The model was then validated on another cluster of 5000 Facebook users. That is, these uses also completed a NEO. The language of these users was subjected to the model, and this model closely predicted their personality. Correlations between predicted and actual personality was about .4 for each of the five traits, ranging from .35 to .43. Correlations between predicted and actual personality on the specific facets of the NEO, such as depression, anger, and anxiety on the neuroticism scale, ranged from .08 to .41 but tended to exceed .20.

Some words were especially associated with personality. Positive words like wonderful, excited, thank you, family, and amazing, were associated with agreeableness. Words like really, sick, hate, and don't were associated with neuroticism, whereas team, workout, game, and great were inversely associated with neuroticism. The words can't, wait and go were inversely associated with openness.

Ratings from limited slices of information

Many studies indicate that individuals can often estimate the personality of someone else from limited slices of information: photographs, websites, bedrooms, conversations, and so forth. For example, in some studies, individuals are asked to rate their own personality on the five factor model. Then, a stranger estimates the personality of one or more of these individuals, from limited information such as a personal profile on a website or a bedroom (e.g., Vazire & Gosling, 2004). Significant correlations tend to be observed, especially for openness to experience.

To ascertain the source of this correlation, some studies have explored the features that coincide with specific personality traits. For example, Marcus, Machilek, and Schutz (2006) showed that conscientious individuals are more inclined to post their resumes on their personal websites as well as regularly count the number of visitors.

During these interactions, many cues and mannerisms can influence perceptions of personality. As Stewart, Dustin, Barrick, and Darnold (2008) showed that job applicants whose handshake is relatively firm, vigorous, and protracted are more likely to be perceived as extraverted. A firm, vigorous, and protracted handshake usually instils a sense of contact or immediacy between the two individuals. This sense of immediacy is usually associated with warmth, closeness, and caring. Because of this sense of connection, individuals perceive each other as more trustworthy and sociable.

Measures that are immune to self-enhancement

Hirsh and Peterson (2008) developed a measure of the five factor model that was not as susceptible to self-enhancement. In particular, in this study, participants needed to decide which of two statements, each of which were socially desirable, describes their personality. Even when participants attempted to fake their answers, responses to these measures predicted performance and creativity. As an aside, when told to fake, people tended to inflate their levels of conscientiousness to the detriment of agreeableness.

Alternative taxonomies of personality

The Big Two Model

Individuals often describe the traits or characteristics of other people. They might perceive someone as active, persistent, clever, resolute, efficient, attractive, undisciplined, dumb, aimless, lazy, empathic, sensitive, friendly, caring, polite, ethical, considerate, tolerant, warm, honest, aloof, withdrawn, jealous, mean, reserved, dishonest, or hypocritical. This gamut of traits and characteristics, together with hundreds of other attributes, correspond to two dimensions (Abele & Bruckmuller, 2011; Abele & Wojciszke, 2007; Cuddy, Fiske, & Glick, 2008; Fiske, Cuddy, & Glick, 2007; Peeters, 1992, 2008).

The first dimension is called communion or warmth. People high on this dimension are perceived as empathic, sensitive, friendly, caring, polite, ethical, considerate, tolerant, warm, and honest. People low on this dimension are aloof, withdrawn, jealous, mean, reserved, dishonest, or hypocritical. The second dimension is called agency or competence. People high on this dimension are perceived as active, persistent, clever, resolute, and efficient. People low on this dimension are undisciplined, dumb, aimless, and lazy. These two dimensions are sometimes referred to as the Big Two (Paulhus & Trapnell, 2008).

Each dimension corresponds to distinct properties. First, when individuals meet or evaluate an acquaintance, colleague, or stranger, they perceive communion as more important than agency. They would prefer a cooperative than a gifted person. However, when individuals evaluate themselves or their children, they become more likely to value agency instead of communion (Abele & Wojciszke, 2007; Wojciszke & Abele, 2008). For example, self esteem is more dependent on agentic than one communal traits (Wojciszke, Baryla, Parzuchowski, Szymkow, & Abele, 2011).

Second, not only do individuals tend to value communion over agency in other people, they also process characteristics associated with warmth and cooperation more rapidly than characteristics associated with competence or power (Abele & Bruckmuller, 2011). For example, they can more readily decide whether communal traits rather than agentic traits are desirable or undesirable. When they receive descriptions of people, they can more readily decide whether or not these individuals are communal than whether or not these individuals are agentic. Finally, when they describe someone, they tend to refer to communal traits before they refer to agentic traits.

The Big Two Model: Dominance complementarity

According to many studies, people tend to like anyone whose level of communion is similar to their own and whose level of agency is different to their own (Tiedens & Fragale, 2003). If they interact with someone whose level of agency is similar to their own, some complications unfold. They feel the other person might challenge their status or power. Similarly, the needs of these individuals may conflict with each other. They might both want to initiate action or both want to comply, compromising the utility of their interactions.

Many studies have confirmed these premises. For example, according to the concept of dominance complementarity, proactive employees--who show initiative, suggest improvements, or introduce changes to enhance the organization--should prefer an introverted, reserved leader. Conversely, employees who are not proactive should prefer an extraverted leader.

Grant, Gino, and Hofmann (2011) verified this hypothesis. As these researchers showed, when employees of a pizza store tend to be proactive, profit is likely to be high if leaders are more introverted and reserved. In contrast, when the employees are not proactive, profit is likely to be high if leaders are more confident and extroverted in their manner.

Ronay, Greenaway, Anicich, and Galinsky (2012) verified one of the mechanisms that may underpin dominance complementarity. Specifically, if all the individuals in a team are dominant, conflicts are more likely to unfold, and performance is, therefore, likely to be impeded.

In this study, participants completed a task in teams of three. To complete this task, participants needed to share their answers and, therefore, coordinate their efforts. In some teams, the fourth finger was appreciably shorter than was the second or index finger in all individuals?-a characteristic that tends to indicate elevated levels of testosterone (see digit ratio). In other teams, the fourth finger was not appreciably shorter than was the second in all individuals, indicating low testosterone. Finally, in some teams, testosterone levels were mixed across the teams.

After completing the task, participants indicated the extent to which conflict was rife, answering questions such as "There was conflict about task responsibilities within our group". Relative to the other teams, when all the individuals exhibited elevated levels of testosterone, conflict was especially pronounced.

However, as Ronay, Greenaway, Anicich, and Galinsky (2012) also showed, when individuals complete tasks that demand cooperation and coordination rather than independence, dominance complementarity seems to be most beneficial. For example, basketball demands cooperation and sharing, whereas baseball is more independent. Dominance complimentarity, therefore, is vital to basketball but not baseball.

To illustrate, in one study, conducted by Ronay, Greenaway, Anicich, and Galinsky (2012), participants completed one of two tasks in teams of three individuals. One of the tasks demanded cooperation and coordination. Each person received a different matrix of letters. They needed to distill words from this matrix but then share these words with other teams members to construct sentences. The other task did not demand cooperation or coordination. Each person needed to uncover various uses of common objects, such as a brick, and then merely pooled their answers with the other members at the end.

For some teams, the three members were all equal on agency or power. To illustrate, in some teams, before completing the task, all three members imagined a time in which they could influence other people. Alternatively, all three members imagined a time in which they were subordinate to someone else. In other teams, the three members differed on agency or power. One individual had imagined a time in which they felt influential; one individual had imagined a time in which they felt subordinate; and one individual did not form either of these images.

If the task demanded cooperation and coordination, teams in which power was distributed across the team rather than equal performed most proficiently. If the individuals could instead complete the tasks independently, teams in which power was uniform performed most proficiently. Presumably, hierarchy can facilitate coordination and diminish conflict, vital for teams that need to work interdependently. Nevertheless, hierarchy might also amplify a need to seek power in general, which can promote unethical decisions.

The Big Two Model: The effect of gossiping

As Farley (2011) showed, gossiping affects the perceived warmth or likeability as well as the perceived agency or power of individuals. That is, when people gossip about someone else, the extent to which they are perceived as likeable and powerful tends to diminish, especially if they communicate negative information about other people.

In one study, participants had to reflect upon a specific person. Some participants had to consider a person who gossips frequently about people--specifically people not in the room at the time. Other participants had to consider a person who gossips infrequently. Furthermore, in some instances, participants were also asked to consider only a person who usually expressed negative comments about other people. In other instances, participants were also asked to consider only a person who usually expressed positive comments about other people. After they identified this person, participants rated the degree to which this individual is likeable and influential.

The results were clear. People who frequently, rather than infrequently, expressed negative comments about other individuals were perceived as neither likeable (cf., Gawronski & Walther, 2008), nor influential. Frequency of gossip did not affect the reputation of people who expressed positive comments about other individuals.

This study did not examine the mechanisms that underpin these effects. Nevertheless, several possibilities could be proposed. People who express negative comments about other individuals could be perceived as disloyal and untrustworthy. Alternatively, the memories or representations of these people could be integrated with the negative words they express. In addition, consistent with the social identity theory of leadership , these individuals may be perceived as diverging from the norms of their collective, curbing their perceived authority. In short, gossip may benefit groups: for example, anyone who deviates from the norms will be penalized. Nevertheless, the person who gossips is usually perceived unfavorably.

The Big Two Model: Responses to rejection

Often, individuals feel they have been rejected by someone. They might not, for example, be invited to a party. Or, their job application may be rejected. As Celik, Lammers, van Beest, Bekker, and Vonk (2013) demonstrated, the emotions people experience after they are rejected depends on whether limited competence or warmth evoked this response. Specifically, if people feel they were not perceived as warm enough, they tend to feel more sad than angry. In contrast, if people feel they were perceived as not competent enough, they tend to feel more angry than sad.

The rationale is straightforward. If people feel they are not warm enough, they essentially feel that someone does not like them. They feel helpless, unable to change the response of the other individual. Consequently, they feel they must adjust their goals rather than mobilize more effort to achieve these goals; sadness has been shown to enhance this capacity of individuals to change their goals. Likewise, sadness can evoke sympathy in other people and foster relationships.

In contrast, if people feel they are not competent enough, they perceive their status or rank as too low. Consequently, they feel compelled to compete with other people--a motivation that anger can facilitate. That is, anger mobilizes effort and can also compel other people to concede to their demands or needs (Van Kleef, 2010).

Celik, Lammers, van Beest, Bekker, and Vonk (2013) conducted two studies that corroborate these possibilities. In one study, participants engaged in a conversation with a confederate and then rated this person on a series of 10 traits, associated with competence and warmth. They also received feedback about their traits, as rated by the confederate. Next, to manipulate whether or not participants felt rejected, the confederate either left or did not leave before the remainder of this study, without offering reasons. Then, participants were asked to remember all the ratings the confederate had indicated--putatively as a memory test but actually to determine whether participants assumed the confederate perceived them as low in competence or warmth. Furthermore, participants indicated the degree to which they feel sad or angry.

If participants ascribed the departure of this confederate to inadequate warmth, they tended to report feelings of sadness. However, if participants ascribed the departure of this confederate to inadequate competence, they tended to report feelings of anger instead. The second study observed the same pattern of results, even when the justification of the confederate's rejection, inadequate competence or inadequate warmth, was unambiguous.

The six factor model: Theoretical basis

According to Ashton, Lee, and Son (2000), the five factor model should be converted to a six factor model. Specifically, these researchers showed that factor analysis of adjectives, or even verbs and nous, tend to generate six factors. Provided the solution is rotated, the first five factors correspond to the traditional five traits: extraversion, neuroticism, conscientiousness, agreeableness, and openness to experience, sometimes called intellect in this model. The sixth factor is novel and represents honesty. Specifically, this factor includes terms like sincere, loyal, trustworthy, altruistic, fair, just, and faithful instead of untruthful, greedy, dishonest, sly, hypocritical, and so forth (for a review, see Ashton & Lee, 2001).

Ashton and Lee (2001), in a seminal paper, characterized the evolution or mechanisms that underpin these six factors. In essence, they argued that:

  • The Honesty factor reflects the extent to which people are fair--that is, the degree to which individuals cooperate with someone, rather than exploit a person, who is also cooperative.
  • Both agreeableness and emotional stability reflect the degree to which people forgive, rather than retaliate, in response to the perpetration of offensive or exploitative behavior.
  • Yet, agreeableness but not emotional stability correspond to feelings of empathic concern or attachment to other people.
  • Extraversion, sometimes called surgency, corresponds to the degree to which people are engaged in social endeavors
  • Conscientiousness, in contrast, corresponds to the extent to which people are engaged in specific tasks
  • Openness corresponds to the degree to which people are engaged in the contemplation of abstract ideas or possibilities.

In short, honesty, agreeableness, and emotional stability relate to the inclinations of individuals in social environments, especially the extent to which they express prosocial acts and inhibit antisocial acts. Extraversion, conscientiousness, and openness represent the domains in which people are most engaged or energized. Ashton and Lee (2001) also reviewed all the evidence that aligns to these mechanisms.


In addition to the five factor model, other frameworks have been developed to represent the personality space. According to one measure, the FIRO-B, personality -or at least interpersonal behavior--can be represented by three dimensions (Schutz, 1958, 1992). The first dimension represents the extent to which individuals seek to maintain relationships with friends or collectives. This dimension, called a need for inclusion, revolves around the fear of rejection or exclusion from social entities.

The second dimension relates to the need to maintain control. That is, individuals sometimes feel a motivation to maintain power and influence in their relationships.

The third dimension concerns the extent to which individuals seek affection, intimacy, and closeness. Specifically, individuals often feel a need to receive warmth and love.

Almost everyone, obviously seeks some level of inclusion, control, and affection. However, undue levels of inclusion, control, and affection can compromise the degree to which individuals feel unique, supported, or independent respectively. As a consequence, individuals seek a balance between these competing needs.

The FIRO-B determines the extent to which individuals express or demonstrate the pursuit of inclusion, control, and affection--rather than solitude, support, and independence. In addition, this instrument examines the degree to which individuals desire inclusion, control, and affection. Hence, this instrument distinguishes between expressed and wanted inclusion, control, and affection. Differences between expressed and wanted scores are assumed to represent a form of internal conflict.

Some studies have examined the psychometric properties of this instrument and explored the validity of this model (Furnham, 1990). Furthermore, this instrument is used extensively, especially in English speaking nations like the United Kingdom (Dancer & Woods, 2006).

Practical implications

Allocation to roles

Individuals who experience neuroticism might be more suited to roles in which employees must follow specific procedures, instructions, and routines precisely (Zhang & Huang, 2001). Individuals who demonstrate extraversion are not suited to roles in which they need to focus on specific, minute details (Zhang & Huang, 2001).

Individuals who seem conscientious are most effective when the roles, goals, targets, and potential rewards are defined clearly (Byrne, Stoner, Thompson, & Hochwater, 2005). In contrast, individuals who are not conscientious perform almost as effectively, if not more effectively, than individuals who are conscientious when the roles, goals, targets, and potential rewards are not defined clearly (Byrne et al., 2005).

Allocation to workgroups

Managers should ensure that individuals should be appreciably more or less extraverted that are the colleagues with whom they are likely to work (Liao Joshi, & Chuang, 2004). That is, employees are less likely to hurt, offend, mock, or curse colleagues at work if they are appreciably more or less extraverted than most of the other individuals in their workgroup, because conflicts are less likely to arise.

In contrast, managers should ensure the individuals should allocated to workgroups in which colleagues exhibit similar levels of agreeableness (Liao Joshi, & Chuang, 2004). This similarity also curbs unsuitable behaviors.


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Created by Dr Simon Moss on 18/10/2008

Related objectives:
- Personality systems interaction theory - Construal level theory - Five factor model of personality -

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